Friday Free-for-All #7

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most annoying noise?

Let me get two classics out of the way: fingernails on a chalkboard and rubbing a balloon don’t really bother me. Anyway, the thing that really skeeves people out with the chalkboard isn’t the sound. It’s empathizing with what dragging your fingernails across a surface might do to them.

It’s not our ears that hurt at the noise. It’s our fingers that cringe at the thought of having a nail ripped off.

I’m also tempted to mention country and (anything)-metal music, except that since it’s attempting to be music, it doesn’t really qualify as noise, because it’s too organized.

I could go political and say “Any words out of the mouth of the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” but I try to avoid those as much as possible so that they won’t annoy me.

This goes for any ridiculous, inflammatory, hateful, conspiratorial, or utterly stupid words to come out of the mouth of anyone, and those come from all sides.

Working my way up on the annoying scale, number three has to be the alarm clock in the morning. Why? Because it’s the sound that tells me, “Okay, wake up from those interesting dreams, get out of your nice warm bed, and go get ready for the day.”

The only mitigating factor is that I use the annoyingness to counteract the fact that I’m not a morning person, and I have two alarms set. One is the alarm in the bedroom with the standard “Beep beep beep” and nine minute snooze, although I’m more forgiving to it, because it also serves as my white noise machine when I’m going to sleep.

The other alarm is my phone, which I leave plugged in on my desk out in the living room, and it’s set to an alarm ringtone called “Donkey” that I find to be completely obnoxious. But that’s the entire point. When it starts to go off, it gets me out of bed and out into the living room to turn it off, and that’s usually enough to keep me on my feet.

Usually.

But that’s purposeful annoyance. Number two on the scale is purposeless annoyance and if you allow it to continue, you’re bad person. I’m looking at you, parents, because most annoying sound number two is a screaming child, and that covers the range from infancy on up until whenever they stop doing it which, I hope, is once they hit school and the overworked and underpaid teachers won’t put up with your crotchfruit’s shit anymore.

We’ve all experienced it, though. Sitting in a restaurant or, riding on the subway, or trying to enjoy a movie or play. Then all of a sudden, a shrill klaxon rends the air in two, our eardrums bleed, and some tiny shit in a onesie decides to exercise their lungs and vocal chords for no good reason.

Modern parenting being what it is (read: crap) the response is frequently a meek and meaningless, “Indoor voice, Jayden, indoor voice,” which accomplishes nothing. There’s that, or the eating disorder in the making response of shoving a juice box or carrot stick or other treat in the kid’s face to shut them up.

Okay, I get it. The direct response of going all drill sergeant and shouting “Shut the fuck up, you little asshole!” right in the kid’s face is frowned upon, but if you’re in a public space, the immediate response should be to evacuate. Grab that thing — they’re portable — and haul it as far away from people as possible.

“Baby rooms” in movie theaters were the best innovation to ever hit the industry.

The funny thing, though, is that some people maintain this tendency for life, and this brings me to most annoying sound number one: A large group of people being loud and shrill in conversation while being totally unaware of it.

In other words, the adult version of the screaming infant.

My weekend job is doing box office for an improv company in the lobby of a building with a much larger theater — but if you’re a regular reader, you know that. I get to see this phenomenon all the time when they have a big crowd for their show. It’s a 360 seat theater, and once it gets over half-full, their audiences can be the worst before, after, and during intermission.

The annoyingness crosses all demographics, although I’d have to say that the absolute worst are teenage girls, because they still do the infantile screaming thing as well. And I feel sorry for you if you get within range of their actual conversations, because they are as content-free as the most blatant of clickbait “Can you believe (celebrity) looks like this now?” articles.

Of course, if you toss in some alcohol, the adults can get just as bad and loud and annoying. And yes, I’m judging you for that if I see it. Deal with it.

So I suppose that the worst noise ever would be my alarm clock waking me up to a baby in a screaming match with his teen-age sitter, and they’re both drunk. Hey, it could be worse.

No. It couldn’t.

So what noise is most annoying to you?

Friday Free-for-All #6

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

Is there any art or artist you are really into?

Oh, there are a lot, and it depends on the medium. I’ll start with a link to an artist I’m a big fan of because I’ve been a close personal friend of his for pushing two decades, and that’s Michael Lightsey.

And I’m not just saying that because we’re friends. I also happen to think that he is one hell of a talented artist, and I envy his abilities. I have two of his works hanging in my home — one a large abstract canvas and the other one of his amazing pencil portraits of me that is so accurate in its depiction that it’s uncanny, and which  was a Christmas gift at the end of the year in which I almost died.

Other visual artists I’m really into are a nice example in contrasts. I’m a big fan of Salvador Dalí, for example, for his surrealist works, but I’m also a huge fan of Michelangelo, mainly because he focused on the representation of human beings, and did it so well. Of course, he’s tied in this category with Da Vinci and Caravaggio. And yes, the homoeroticism of the works of the latter three have a lot to do with my interest in them.

If we’re going for pure modern kitsch, then yes, I have a soft spot for Norman Rockwell, but he could also be quite politically progressive.

Moving from visual media, let’s go to music. My three “classical” influences (although that just means “stuff before the 1950s” nowadays) would be Beethoven, actually classical composer who created romanticism; Gustav Mahler, a late romantic composer who ushered in modernism; and Dmitri Shostakovich, a modernist who has had more influence on modern Hollywood film scores than you’d think. Hint: Everything John Williams has ever written came out of a blender loaded with Shostakovich, Gustav Holst, and Carl Orff.

Moving into the truly modern and post-modern age, I’d have to give you Pink Floyd, Godley & Crème (who created the idea of morphing long before CGI in their video for Cry), and OK Go, who just blew the socks off of the idea of what could be done in music videos over a decade ago and haven’t stopped since. Not to mention that they are all just the nicest guys ever.

As for movies, give me my quartet of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Russell, and Gilliam, each of whom made pretty much nothing but perfect films, and three of whom are, sadly, dead.

All four of them had a huge influence on my creative life. Hitchcock taught me how to build suspense and raise the stakes while also subverting the usual tropes by playing into them and then making a big left turn. For example, one of his most suspenseful chase scenes doesn’t happen in a claustrophobic space. It happens in a wide open field in North by Northwest. And in what is probably his most well-known work, Psycho (spoiler alert for a 60 year-old film) he kills off the heroine played by the big-name actress in the first thirty minutes.

As for Kubrick, he taught me that films and all art should always be about big ideas, and that every story was more than the sum of its apparent parts. A lot of critics accuse him of being cold, but I never saw that. In fact, my favorite work of his is 2001: A Space Odyssey, because it spans the course of hundreds of thousands of years, doesn’t have a single protagonist, and asks really, really big questions while attempting to give answers.

Plus it created my love of science and science fiction. I didn’t really get into his other works until I was an adult, and by which point he’d created all but one of them before dying, but I devoured them all and could find no wrong in any of them. And each one is about something much bigger than the apparent genre.

Ken Russell, meanwhile, taught me to take no subject seriously, and just have fun with it. One of the things he frequently did were biopics, and he loved to do them out of order, or in the style of the art of the artist he was portraying. Go figure. Again, as with Kubrick, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Russell movie I didn’t love. Well… theatrical release. The stuff he started to shoot once he retired to his estate and thought he discovered green screen and social media is, well… kind of bad. But we don’t speak of that.

Otherwise… he banged off a series of solid hits that I devoured on the revival circuit (because, for some reason, most of his stuff never hit home media, and still hasn’t) He managed to turn a really shitty rock opera by The Who into a fairly decent movie called Tommy (although Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Alan Parker’s adaptation of it in the early 80s would blow Tommy out of the water), as well as create brilliant adaptations of the Weekend at Byron’s during which Frankenstein and Dracula were conceived (Gothic) and a mostly exacting staging of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome as a play-within-the movie Salome’s Last Dance, in which the conceit is that Oscar’s banned play is being staged in a Cleveland Street brothel (i.e., gay boy whorehouse in an area that the law was about to come down on hard because several politicians had been indiscrete.)

Finally, there’s Terry Gilliam, who started out with a silly comedy troupe you might have heard of, but then he went on to direct some really amazing shit. Where he really caught my attention was with Brazil, the best version of 1984 ever made, but he just kept getting better. 12 Monkeys knocked it out of the park, plus it proved that Brad Pitt could act and Bruce Willis could play more than Bruce Willis on screen.

Then again, Gilliam has always had a knack for actors. After all, he cast Uma Thurman in one of her earliest roles, and likewise cast Jonathan Pryce, and Andrew Garfield as leads. He also cast Heath Ledger in the lead before Brokeback Mountain and long before The Dark Knight, but also had the distinction of having directed Ledger’s last film. Oops.

And the only remainders, who were influences on my playwriting, you can look up: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, and Joe Orton.

Friday Free-for-All #4

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you have convinced someone is true?

This one goes back a few years, probably the late 00’s or early 10’s, when I was working for a D-List celebrity’s web and merchandising company, and one of the things we did was send staff along for his various live appearances in order to sell merchandise at the venue.

Since, at the time, I was the one managing operations, I rarely traveled to these events myself because I was dealing with getting the product to and from them. I think the only two events I actually worked were both in California, one a local drive to Thousand Oaks, and the other a weekend trip to Cupertino, near San Francisco, with a co-worker.

But once up a time, there was a trip coming up to St. Louis, and two of my co-workers were scheduled to go there. One of them was from St. Louis, so it was a nice bonus for here that she’d get to see family. The other one was not. Originally from Florida, he was a fairly recent transplant to Los Angeles.

I’ll call him Stu. Nice guy, bit of a hipster but in a nice, non-pretentious way. And it’s probably unfair to label him that. He was just into traditional ways of doing things, like when it came to photography — a film fan in the digital age, and the kind of person I’d like to introduce to anyone ripping on Millennials by way of saying, “See? You’re wrong!”

So Stu was flying out with Beth the next day and we were all at the local bar near the office for some celebration, although I don’t remember the occasion. All I remember was Stu talking about how excited he was to be making his first trip to St. Louis, and Beth telling him he’d love it and mentioning place they should go to, when my inner eye twinkled and I just couldn’t resist.

“You’ll really love flying into the city,” I told him. “You know the St. Louis arch? It’s right by the airport, and the planes fly through it to land.”

Now Beth knew I was bullshitting. I knew I was bullshitting, but she caught on immediately and didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, it’s pretty incredible,” she said (or something like that, I don’t remember) and she played right along with the joke.

In improv, we’d call this “Yes, anding” the offer.

And the more that Stu asked, “You’re kidding, right?” the more I’d insist I wasn’t and the more Beth would back me up. By the end of the evening as he was heading out — they were leaving first thing in the morning — he was excited as hell to see it for himself.

I didn’t get the full report until Tuesday morning when they were back in the office, but Beth pulled me aside and said that as the pilot announced final approach, Stu got out his camera and aimed it out the window, ready to get the shot of his life. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting… and then his anticipation sank as fast as the plane, disappearing completely as the wheels hit the tarmac and he sighed. “That son of a bitch,” he muttered.

He wasn’t really pissed at me and, in fact, was impressed that I’d pulled off such a prank. And, besides, we both knew that I’d done it out of love, not spite. I really did like the guy, still do, and I’d only pull a prank like this on someone I did like. What? I’m going to waste the energy on someone I hate? No. Those people I’m going to either ignore, or rip a new one and then ignore.

And it was a harmless prank with no real consequences, because a harmful prank with consequences is something that I would never do, not even to an enemy. Maybe I’d pull a terribly inconveniencing prank with no real consequences on an enemy, but never anything harmful.

Other than that, I can’t really think of any times when I tried to make somebody believe something ridiculous. But if you’re a more than casual reader of this blog, you know that I roll the opposite way. I love to try to make people understand and believe real things.

By the way, while it is technically possible to fly the commercial jet with the biggest wingspan (300 feet) through the Gateway Arch (width between the supports at the bottom, 522 feet), the eastern side is dangerously close to a lot of buildings that would get in the way of a plane trying to get that low, although the western side does face the Mississippi.  Bottom line, the FAA would never go for it. The best you might be able to achieve is a private helicopter flight through it.

Although the permitting and planning for that probably makes it as ridiculous an idea as what I once convinced Stu to believe.

Friday Free-for-All #3

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

It’s a way I’ve spent it many times before, but it requires one thing that I’m missing at the moment, and that’s somebody I love very much and am in a relationship with. The weekend begins on Friday, after we’re both off of work, and either starts at one of our places or, if we’re living together, at home.

Ideally, this is a person I love so much that I’d gladly wait in line with them at the DMV or even drive them to LAX during rush hour on the Friday before a long weekend or pick them up at five a.m. on the Tuesday after.

But those are not ideal ways to spend the weekend.

Our Friday begins with dinner, either something we cook together at home or something we go out to have at our favorite restaurant. We might browse in a bookstore or other random shop after dinner, then grab dessert to go, bring it home, and the cuddle up on the sofa to watch a movie or a few episodes of a TV show, or whatever.

It’s not really about what we’re watching, of course. It’s about being in each other’s presence and sharing an experience. Eventually, we turn off the TV, take the dog out to do their business (because there has to be a dog, of course), then come home, go to the bedroom, tear each other’s clothes off and go at it like college kids on spring break.

What? You thought that that wasn’t going to be part of the equation?

On Saturday morning, we wake up whenever for a more subdued repeat performance, then clean up and get ready for the day, which usually involves breakfast at a place with excellent eggs and pancakes at the least, and a discussion of what we’re going to do.

The “what” really doesn’t matter. It’s the doing it together that does. One week, I might decide. Another week, he might. Or we could just go for a random drive or hope on the Metro and wing it. We might wind up out in Topanga or Malibu, in Hollywood or Downtown, in Burbank or Pasadena.

We may or may not buy things, but we talk. We talk about serious things and utterly ridiculous things. We amuse each other. We comment on odd things and people we notice. We are a conspiracy of two.

On the most ideal of weekends, after the exploring is done and we’ve come home to either have a nap or, if we come home early, lunch, then it’s time to go to a party where we’ll catch up with old friends and make new ones. The ideal party revolves around games, particularly card or board games, but there are also some great improv games, too. The idea is to get the entire group interacting with each other, rather than letting it splinter off into separate conversations.

If we didn’t have a party to go to, then instead it would be see a play or movie for the evening.

After the party, we return home, walk the dog, repeat Friday night’s performance, then sleep.

Sunday starts much like Saturday, but is also more of a stay-at-home day, maybe even a stay in bed for a while and cuddle day. This is also when we’d give each other space to take care of the stuff we need to take care of, like any personal business, writing, whatever. We might even go our separate ways for a few hours to do so, meeting up again mid-afternoon.

If it’s not the season to go to a cook-out at a friend’s place, then we would go to the grocery store, grab a couple of steaks, bring them home to slather in honey and mustard and then grill, and then eat them while streaming a few episodes of our current favorite comedy shows. If we’re living together, then the evening is another time for each of us to take care of those personal business things and prepare for the Monday Monster. If we aren’t living together, then it’s time for us to say good-bye and whoever isn’t at home to very reluctantly go home.

The perfect capper on the weekend is that text from the one who left that says, “Got home okay. Love you.”

And yes, I’ve spent many a weekend in my life just like this, so don’t go lamenting that for me this post comes from a place of regret. Rather, it comes from a place of many, many amazing memories with several exes and, oddly enough (or not), the ones with whom I shared these kinds of weekends are still good friends. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Also, remove the sex bits and this would be an ideal weekend for me with any good friend whom I truly love.

Friday Free-for-All #2

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What small thing makes you angrier than it should?

The one thing that consistently makes me angry is other drivers — particularly when they’re doing stupid things or just not paying attention. Or, worse, when they don’t get the concept of how to let another lane that’s forced to merge into theirs.

“Oh no. Those cars want to get in. Better ride the bumper of the car in front of me!”

And when the green left turn arrow turns green, as soon as the other a-holes who are still turning left through what’s now a red light for them clear, move your goddamn ass. Every day, I see a left-turn light that’s timed to get at least half a dozen cars through in a cycle manage two, or maybe three, all because the first person doesn’t go as soon as they can, and then the next two people leave gaps before they get going.

I have actually counted a full six seconds between the time I’ve made my left turn and am fully in the new lane and the time the car behind me is just crossing out of the crosswalk to start the left turn.

But these aren’t small things. They can really screw up traffic and make everyone late or, worse, they can cause accidents.

I also get angry at the human version of this — i.e., the one that happens when people are on foot, and I’ve ranted about that one as well, but again I think it’s justifiable to get angry when people are so oblivious that they manage to single-handedly block everything from a doorway to an escalator to a grocery store aisle. Put them in groups, and they can block an entire sidewalk.

But when it comes to things that are probably trivial that make me angrier than they should, the winner is people leaving shopping carts all over the parking lot at stores. And I know how they justify it. “Well, they pay people to bring the carts in, why should I do their job for them?”

Except… this isn’t automated checkout I’m referring to here, because that truly is an abomination, and an attempt to save money by making the customers do the work for free and reducing the actual paid staff.

Unless and until they create a cart-retrieving robot that can do it without missing any carts, accidentally grabbing anything that isn’t a cart, or ramming into cars or people, it’ll be that underpaid and increasingly a lot older than high school bagger/stocker who has to go out into whatever weather there is to make up for all those lazy asses who just dump their carts wherever.

Regarding that automated cart, Walmart was floating the idea back in 2016, but there’s been no hint of it happening since then. And since shopping cart theft is a major problem and expense for grocery stores, why spend even more money on something that might still manage to wander off despite its “go home” programming?

But let’s get back to that justification, because there’s another reason that “Well, they pay people to bring the carts in, why should I do their job for them?” is just plain wrong.

They don’t pay them to bring the carts back from everywhere. They pay them to bring them back from those cart corrals that are conveniently located all over the parking lot. Chances are that a shopper is never no more than thirty feet from one, if that, and it should be no big deal to roll that cart right on over and in.

But, no. And I’ve seen people dump carts everywhere. The more considerate among the lazy will try to place them out of the way at least, but I’ve seen people leave them right in the middle of an empty parking spot, behind someone else’s car or, worst of all, in the blue-striped section right next to a handicapped space.

Each one of these is heinous in its own way. Leave it in the middle of a spot? That means someone else can’t park there without stopping — potentially blocking other cars in the lot — then dealing with someone else’s laziness to make room for their own car.

Leave it behind someone else’s car? What if they happen to not see it before they back out? I’ve seen that one happen, and it can cause a huge mess, from damage to that person’s car (that the store winds up paying for, meaning that the customers ultimately do) to the cart being propelled to who-knows-where, slamming into other cars, moving or not, or people, or possibly even rolling into the street.

All because someone couldn’t be arsed to walk a few yards.

The worst though, as mentioned, is the handicapped space, and people who dump carts in the striped area immediately to either or both sides of the spot. Why? Because these areas are designed to allow entry and exit access to vans equipped with wheelchair ramps.

Generally, these areas are eight feet wide because that’s the amount of space needed to lower the ramp at a shallow enough angle that the person in the wheelchair can exit the van and still be in the striped zone once they’re on the ground.

If someone puts a cart there, it can make it impossible to deploy the ramp, and if the disabled person happens to be the only occupant of the vehicle, there’s no way that they’re going to be able to pop open a door, hop out to move the cart, then jump back in their wheelchair and use the ramp. I mean, come on. Think about it for one second.

Anyone thinking, “Oh, they can just call for someone to help” is the exact opposite of what the Americans with Disabilities Act is all about. It was designed so that people with disabilities or who are differently abled shouldn’t have to ask anyone for help.

And anyone especially thinking, “Oh, there are way too many handicapped spots anyway, they can find another one,” A) May your genitals suffer a scorchingly painful, regular, and incurable outbreak of shingles combined with either jock itch, a yeast infection, or both, and

  1. B) A handicap is what golfers get. That word should be expunged. Even “disabled” is iffy nowadays, seeing as how most people who are differently abled are still quite able to function in society because, well, you know… some people figured out and fought for how to make that possible.
  2. C) If someone takes advantage of the disabled parking placard system when they’re not — e.g. convincing a less than ethical doctor to sign the certificate when the only problem is that their patient is too lazy to walk an extra twenty feet — may they always wind up in the line that looks short, but is actually jam-packed with complaining Karens, and old people with lots of coupons who pay by check, and then be sandwiched between the two single parents with the pair of toddlers each that they won’t control, with both of the kids being screamers and throwers. Every damn time they go to the store, and so that it never takes less than twenty minutes to make it through check-out.

And you know what? I’ve now convinced myself that the whole “not returning the carts” issue is, in fact, not really a small thing, either. It does have a big effect on people. It’s just invisible to most of the inconsiderate class who doesn’t think ahead and empathize.

Which makes me reflect back on my driving anger and point out my own possible blind spot. How do I know for sure that the driver in front of me didn’t get T-boned when making a left turn, or got slammed into when someone merged abruptly into their lane, or they slammed into someone else, or they’ve had too many speeding tickets, or they’re just having a bad day, or have a cold, or…

I could go on, but there are probably reasons that those people aren’t assholes at all. Instead, they’re just human, and I’m the one being the asshole. After all, despite all of the “stupid” I see on my daily commute, I check out Google Maps when I get up, calculate the proper time to leave, and I’m never late to work. So it really doesn’t affect me at all.

Or, in other words, maybe that was the answer all along. A small thing that makes me angrier than it should is drivers just being human.

Image source: Image Howard Lake, used via Creative Commons (cc) 2.0.

Christmas Countdown, Friday #2

Day 8

Remember, this day’s theme is All I Want for Christmas Is You, and this is absolutely one of my favorite covers of it for a ton of reasons. This one is from Out of the Blue, described on their website as Oxford’s premier all-male a cappella group, and they regularly do charity singles like this for the benefit of Helen & Douglas House Hospice for Children and Young Adults.

The other nice thing about OOTB is that over the years they have become more and more inclusive. As far as I can determine, this video is only five years old (although I could swear I’ve been linking to it every year for much longer), and it only hints playfully at accidental gayness. Their more recent videos don’t hold back or apologize for anything. This one is just tons of cute and adorable, plus these boys can sing and dance. And for a good cause.

Don’t miss Thursday’s post, or Saturday’s!